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Ways to Help a Friend in Crisis

This spring I read the book Option B: Facing Adversity, Building Resilience, and Finding Joy. I enjoyed its insights and refreshing my mind on topics that I had not thought too much about since my Death, Grief, and Loss class in graduate school. However, since I finished reading it, I had done very little about putting it into practice, aside from following Option B on instagram and getting small reminders throughout my ordinary days. Then my daughter was hospitalized, and suddenly I was a friend in crisis who needed help. Fortunately, support is exactly what I received from so many family and friends. Below are some thoughts and ideas of how you may be able to help a friend in crisis. Most are based on what I remember of my social work training, the Option B book, and what my family and friends have done for my family this past month.

Do something. Try to avoid a vague “let me know if you need anything” because that puts the burden on your friend who is already in crisis.

Something may look like:

  1. Contacting your friend, even if they don’t reply, and even if you think, “Eh, I don’t know him/her that well. What if they think it’s weird I’m contacting them?”. *This is so important! It is even more valuable if your friend experiences something as life-altering as the death of someone they love. Keep contacting them beyond the first few days or weeks after their crisis. You may think you’ll make it worse if you bring up whatever their crisis or trauma is, but the truth is, their lives have been forever changed, and it means so much to know that you haven’t forgotten that.
  2. Sending a small gift. From a Starbucks e-gift card (delivered via email; so easy!) to a cuddly blanket/stuffed animal for their child to fresh flowers or an Edible Arrangement, do not hesitate to find a way to tangibly love your friend and brighten their day.
    A fresh flower delivery helps brighten nearly any room (exclusions apply if your friend is temporarily staying on certain floors in the hospital).
    A few of the new stuffed animals sent to my daughter while she was in the hospital.
  3. Asking how they are doing at that moment and then listening to their response without worrying about having the perfect thing to say. There is no perfect, one-size-fits-all response to everyone going through a crisis, so my main advice is to be open-minded and affirm their experience, such as “Wow. That sounds really hard. I’m sure anyone in your shoes would feel that way.” Please avoid trying to compare your crisis or loss to theirs.
  4. Visiting them and bringing their favorite coffee/tea beverage. One of my dearest friends postponed leaving for her vacation to do this our first morning in the hospital. She was the first person, aside from my parents, to come to the hospital, and it meant the world to me.
  5. Be willing to express your own emotion and not feel like you have to be stoic around your friend. Of course, be careful not to make this all about you and find someone in an outer circle to work through your own emotions; do not put your emotional work on your friend in crisis. 

    Page 53 from Option B: Facing Adversity, Building Resilience, and Finding Joy by Sheryl Sandberg and Adam Grant, which explains the circle concept mentioned in my #5.

  6. Offering to pray, reading Scripture, or sharing a quote with your friend. This can even be done via text or voicemail.
  7. Getting food delivered by ClusterTruck (downtown Indy) or some other food delivery service in the city where your friend lives. 

    Edible Arrangements are a great, fresh food delivery option available in many cities across the United States.

  8. Watching their pet(s) and sending texts with picture updates. We were so grateful we did not have to worry about our dog for a minute because he was well-cared for by our friends and their adorable boys.
  9. Bringing your friend snacks and magazines for the hospital (or wherever they may be that is away from their home). Bonus if you bake homemade chocolate chip cookies and bring them within hours of them being taken out of the oven. My brother-in-law should open a bakery; his cookies were such a deliciously thoughtful way to lift our spirits in the hospital.
  10. Starting a formal meal train for them. You may have to be persistent and proactive because people like me may struggle to accept this due to feeling like they’ll be inconveniencing their friends. You may even offer to include a note that there will be a cooler on their porch so they don’t have to greet people if it’s a tough time.
  11. Signing up to be part of meal train. It could be a gift card or delivery from a favorite, local restaurant, a gift card to MagicKitchen.com, or a home-cooked meal. Literally, anything and everything makes it one less meal your friend needs to cook. Consider something they can freeze and throw in the crockpot at a later date or even breakfast for dinner to mix up what they’re eating.
  12. Surprising your friend by leaving a snack bag filled with an encouraging note and their favorite treats on their porch. My mom’s reaction when I opened the bag was, “Wow! How did they know how much you like peanut butter and chocolate?” Shout out to my MOPS table leader for keeping my “all about me” sheet from last fall and therefore knowing my favorite snack combination.
  13. Sending a care package with a handwritten card and thoughtfully curated goodies from an important city in your friend’s life. 

    A surprise care package sent by a group of our friends from Ann Arbor, MI, which is an important place to us because it is where we lived for four years and where our daughter was born.

  14. Writing and sending snail mail. Involve your child to help by asking them to draw a picture or write a note, depending on their age.

What other ideas do you have? Let’s remember that life is better when we do it together and to keep being the kind of friend who shows up in all times, especially times of crisis and change.

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